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Many veteran students with disabilities need college preparation programs and therefore may not enrol in college immediately. Often, such students have to take care of certain combat health-related matters before they can move to the next phase of life, as was Jorge Reyes, Jr’s case. After Jorge was discharged from active duty in Iraq and undergoing a reconstructive knee surgery for injuries he sustained in combat, he immediately enrolled in a nearby community college in Los Angeles but he performed poorly in school. As a matter of fact, Jorge related poorly with other students who were obviously younger than him and knew nothing about computers. Adhering to a friend’s suggestion, Jorge quickly enrolled in the VUB (Veterans Upward Bound) program, and shortly, he was excelling in his classes at Glendale Community College. Just like Reyes, the time veteran students with disabilities spent in active-duty combined with the time required to attend to their wellbeing, delay their college entry, making them older as compared to students of the traditional-age. In fact, their long absenteeism from school greatly affects their academic readiness (Grossman 2009, p. 6).
On the other hand, veteran students with disabilities need transitional help. Along with Grossman (2009), the military offers all the support that veterans may need while in service but once they leave; they have to survive on their own. These transitional needs for veteran students with disabilities may range from assistance with claiming education benefits, academic advice, to receiving credit for their training in the military. Nevertheless, veteran students need emotional support considering that experiences in the combat zone differ much from the normal daily life encounters. Upon returning home, most veterans find it difficult to relate easily and properly to non-veterans. Therefore, veteran students seriously need the emotional support of one another. Actually, they need somewhere where they can interact with other veteran students, a place they can feel at ease, and where that can be supported in their social and academic lives (p. 7).
Lastly, veteran students need a supportive climate since non-veteran students might be insensitive at times to the feelings of veteran students. Moreover, members of the faculty can also add distress to veteran students with disabilities via their insensitivity. For example a case where a professor keeps on insisting that a veteran student should share his/her insight on military experience even when then student wants to put the matter behind. Indeed, there is a great need to train staff, faculty, and the entire student population on the ways to make college more inclusive of veteran students either with or without disabilities (Grossman 2009, p. 8). In addition, veteran students with disabilities are most likely to face stigma from non-veteran students without disability. This may arise following the non-disabled students lack of knowledge and understanding regarding veteran disabilities. For instance, a veteran student with disability may experience mental disorders which may affect their relations with other students who are mentally fit (Branker 2009, p 59). Moreover, as a result of psychological effects that may be caused by the traumatising incidents witnessed by veteran students, they may be unable to relate appropriately with the faculty and other students within the college. Thus, most students without disabilities might choose not to socialize or interact with veteran students with disabilities for the fear of being harmed.
As Ruh et al. (2009) suggested, veteran students with disabilities also experience serious stigma from the faulty, staff and students who think that veterans are people without emotions due to the kind of work they are involved with. Subsequently, this might leave the veteran students with disabilities feeling unappreciated hence resulting to further psychological problems. As a matter of fact, veteran students with disabilities need to transition smoothly into college life and community by feeling accepted by members of staff, faculty, and other students. This will highly help these students because they will tend to feel less marginalized and more appreciated. Undoubtedly, veteran students with disabilities once held an important role in the country’s military, serving military leaders and protecting the civilians (p. 72). Actually, they were heroes while in the military but upon joining college, they are generally looked upon as grown-up learners with needs that are disability related. Just like Rul et al. (2009), argued, mattering is a motive and it highly determines behavior, therefore, colleges must ensure that their practices, policies, and programs are helping veteran students with disabilities feel that they too matter (p. 68).
Current Practices for Support Programs
In 2009, the Postsecondary Education and Disability Journal together with the AHEAD (Association on Higher Education and Disability) published special articles specific to veteran students with disabilities in higher education. Based on these articles, current programs, and recommendations for support programs for veteran students with disabilities include re-thinking delivery approaches of disability service, providing transitional help, offering emotional support, creating a supportive climate, providing holistic education, and offering employment assistance (Grossman 2009, p. 9).
Traditionally, services related with disability in higher education institutions required the affected students to prove that their academic functioning was highly limited by their disabilities through documentation. Nevertheless, with extended coverage offered following the passage of ADAAA, disability-related services now bear the responsibility of ensuring that students who are disabled get academic accommodations whether impairment actually limits a key life activity or not (Grossman 2009, p. 9). In accordance with Burnett & Segoria (2009), ADAAA has also ensured that disability services keep a good working relationship with the vocational rehabilitation counsellor and the college veteran office so that both parties can work harmoniously to ensure veteran students with disabilities are served adequately (p. 53). Moreover, Shackelford (2009) suggested that it is important for disability services to keep side by side issues on the Department of Education and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission websites, and clearly apply the regulations of ADAAA. In addition, Shackelford recommended disability services to share updates on veteran matters with administrators, faculty, and staff so as to create effective collaboration (p. 36).
The Office of Civil Right (OCR) warned that many veteran students acquire disabilities as adults and are therefore may be unfamiliar with certain traditional accommodation means used by other students who are disabled. More to this point, the Wounded Warriors Initiative by OCR was established to help disability services with taking on creative approaches to serve veteran students with disabilities. To counter the stigma associated with disabilities, Burnett & Segoria (2009) suggested that building trustworthy relationships with disabled veteran students like explaining the procedures of academic accommodation, providing support, encouraging open conversations by using peer support, and assuring confidentiality would be necessary (p. 54).
Presently, there are veteran disability programs that provide emotional support to veteran students with disabilities. As such, veteran students with disabilities feel at ease relating to individuals who have gone through the same experiences. Quite a number of veteran centers have been established to enable veteran students with disabilities to seek support and offer assistance to one another. Such resources providing emotional support to veteran students work better when veteran students are involved in their design and support. For instance, the veteran center at the University of Arizona was in fact initiated by Dan Standage, a visually impaired veteran student. In relation with Madaus et al. (2009), offering peer counselling via work study programs and forming student groups are alternative ways that veteran students can offer emotional support to one another (p. 10).
In line with Church (2009), the Student Veterans of America offers assistance to institutions interested in creating student groups and also provides finances to colleges that hire veteran students who offer the necessary counselling services to their colleagues.
Recommendations for Universities
Universities and colleges should create a supportive climate so as to help veteran students with disabilities in achieving their higher education academic goals. However, the university faculty members should desire to recognize the status of veteran students and seek to know them intensely as students. In order to create a university that is veteran-friendly, it is essential to educate staff, management, and the general student population regarding veteran student’s issues. This program should be based on the notion that staff and faculty must be properly-informed to facilitate a college experience that is successful for veterans of today. Training may be provided through in-service department training, lecture discussion series through cable TV and websites. As a result, faculty and staff will be better informed in relation with the veteran students’ needs. For instance, they will understand why veteran students with PTSD need certain seating positions and spots in the classroom (Burnett & Segoria, 2009, p. 55).
Additionally, universities can provide holistic education to veteran students with disabilities so as to enable them to have an easy time around campus. In addition to the many difficulties that veteran students with disabilities encounter, they also face challenges while getting around campus, understanding course curriculum, and getting to classes due to acquired learning and/or physical disabilities. However, the universities could also promote the idea of universal access to environment and resources for persons with disabilities. According to Shackelford (2009), when the environment and resources are friendly to veterans with disability, they become accessible to the non-disabled as well. Moreover, the adoption of universal design by universities would ensure that all veteran students benefit from pedagogy and the integration of technology regardless of ability. For example, coursework design ought to include service learning and student engagement, intentional planning, and technological innovation. Certainly, initiatives aimed at benefiting veteran students with disabilities could as well profit other learners (p. 45). However, the adopted universal design must state the kind of experience and activities that are intended for veteran students with disabilities. Moreover, it should advocate for responding to the needs of veteran students in higher education classrooms.
Furthermore, the universal design is a human-centred design, a way that solves problems by constraints/conditions of the student. When good learning and teaching practices are merged with the principles of universal design, the college would be able to accommodate diverse learning styles, talents, and disabilities. Additionally, it would be in a position to accommodate a broad range of individual preferences, communicate easily regardless of the veteran student’s sensory abilities, and allow for maximum participation by students regardless of posture, mobility, body size, or psychological motility (Ruh, et al., 2009, p. 69).
Besides, universities and colleges should offer employment assistance to veteran students with disabilities. The American Community Survey of 2006 indicated that over 700,000 veterans with disabilities lack employment in any given month and the few who are employed are radically under-employed (Burnett & Segoria 2009, p. 56). In order to counter this fact, disability services should work together with career officers and take on successful corporate initiatives to assist veteran students with disabilities transition to employment. These practices may involve teaching skills that handle work-related problems, setting up awareness workshops for disability to educate people on issues that are disability-related, and instructing veteran students with disabilities on latest assistive technology that sustains their conditions.
According to Shackelford (2009), the ACE (1949) article stated that a students’ development is affected by attitudes, experiences, background, and abilities that they bring along to college, their reactions toward past experiences, and their classroom experiences (p. 21). Besides, nurturing veteran students with disabilities through physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and social support helps in achieving their higher education goals. This holistic approach is supported by the article Learning reconsidered (Shackelford 2009, p. 22). In the same line of thought, it would be important and helpful, particularly for residential institutions, to a sign a unique residential hall with all the necessary facilities to veteran students with disabilities. This will ensure that these students feel more comfortable and are able to access facilities that are essential for persons with disabilities hence promoting better academic performance. However, staff and faculty training will help in increasing sensitivity and providing timely assistance to veteran students with disabilities when required. In accordance with Branker (2009), professionals of higher education should ensure that veteran students with disability have a counsellor or academic advisor who can guide them in the processes of registration and accommodation (p. 60).
On the other hand, higher education institutions should conduct regular assessments and keep accurate data regarding veteran students with disability programs. In absence of accurate data in sectors such as engagement, enrolment, and persistence, it would be very hard for higher education institutions to meet the needs of veteran students with disabilities. Besides keeping accurate data and information, each and every institution has the responsibility to carry out regular assessments on veteran’s students with disability and associated services and programs. Institutions of higher education should be committed to serving their veteran students with disabilities and thus ought to make sure that assessment of these students’ performance and programs and services that are veteran-related are conducted on an ongoing basis (Branker 2009, p. 63).
Veteran students are becoming an increasingly diverse group of students, and though these students form a minority population in colleges and universities, their need widely differ from those of other minority groups in various ways. More and more higher education institutions are recognizing the importance of offering veteran students with disabilities with customized services and programs to recruit, retain and ensure graduation of these students. Nevertheless, some of these institutions have no idea on how to establish such services and programs, while others are highly overwhelmed by the huge amount of recommendations and information for implementation. Thus, it is important for higher education institutions to create their own standards as the develop services, resources, and programs for their veteran students with disabilities.
Veteran students with disabilities are likely to face certain academic and social imbalances in higher education and deal properly with them. Actually, this generation will soon start to emerge as leaders in all productive sectors of the society. The combination of their wisdom and discipline gathered from their injuries and sacrifices while in military service, and the commitment of higher education to design a balanced and complete education for them, will propel this deserving group of students into playing a key role in enhancing their quality of life as well as that of the nation and the entire world.
As returning veterans with disabilities enrol in colleges and universities in large numbers mainly as a result of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, college personnel need to become conscious of the fact that many have really suffered combat-related wounds both psychological and physical. By understanding the effects of such wounds and the needs of veteran students, and making use of the best practices for veteran support programs and services that are sustained by assessments, accurate data, and grants, as well as professional and coherent standards, college personnel can become more effective instruments in assisting veteran students succeed and excel in college.